How can humanity, which can be so kind and gentle and courageous, be so inhumane? How can parts of the human race be complicit in the the creation and continuation of the Third Reich? How can we align ourselves with the Soviet gulags, with state-wide torturing, butchering and oppression?
Yesterday, I didn’t find the answer, but I witnessed an episode that has led me further towards it.
When I lived with my parents, I used to love walking our dog. Especially when we went somewhere he could go off-lead. I’d watch him bound across fields and fly into bushes. He’d run around, roll about, pee everywhere, pick up sticks and wag his tail.
Typically, when I took him out I’d see other dog-walkers too, and ninety percent of the time I’d witness the following scenario: a man or woman would be walking a dog on a lead. The dog would pause to sniff something, or sometimes just to pee, so the walker would pause too. But not for long. After ten seconds the walker would get impatient and give progressively stronger tugs on the lead, eventually dragging the dog onwards.
Every time I saw that scene play out, I’d curse the dog walker in my head. I admit it, I knew nothing about the person. But I could deduce enough to realise that they didn’t have that much respect for their pet. My inner dialogue in those moments: “The dog is interested—perhaps even fascinated—by whatever he smells, yet you can’t wait for a few seconds to let that fascination subside? You’re tugging on the lead—which is connected to the collar around the dog’s throat—just because you don’t want to stand there anymore? Fuck you and your delusional sense of self-importance.”
It happened again yesterday. It was a beautiful day, one of the first true summer days of the year, and I was walking into town. The sky was blue, the wind was gentle and refreshing, the birds were singing. On the path ahead was a little old lady. She was taking this tiny, scruffy-but-cute dog for a stroll. It paused to sniff something in a bush. But she wanted to move on. So she was yanking the lead, jerking the dog away from the bush, trying to turn away and continue on. It wasn’t working. After each tug, the dog would return to sniffing the bush. Each time this happened, the look on the little old lady’s face grew more monstrous.
I use that word deliberately because as I approached and passed her, her face became a mask of rage and hate. It may sound like I’m exaggerating for dramatic effect; I assure you, I am not. She was giving the dog a look of such ferocious intensity that witnessing it shocked me out of my train of thought.
In that moment, I understood a little more how normal people can be so cruel and vicious. If in the most mundane of scenarios a little old lady can summon such reckless hate and direct it at a dog, it becomes entirely plausible for humanity to be capable of unimaginable inhumanity towards itself, other species and the environment.